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North Korea: Ten things you didn't know

12 February 2016

Ten things you didn't know

1. In 1907 there was a great revival in Pyongyang.

The capital became known as the 'Jerusalem of the East', and hundreds of churches sprang up.

2. Persecution against Christians in North Korea didn't begin with Kim Il-Sung.

Korea was officially ruled by Japan between 1910 and 1945, and Christians and other civilians were forced to bow before the altars of the emperor.

3. Before the Korean War there were 500,000 Christians in North Korea.

After the war ended in 1953, under the dictatorship of Kim Il-Sung, tens of thousands of Christians were killed, imprisoned or banished to remote areas. The rest of the church went underground. Ten years later, there was no visible presence of the church.

4. North Korea is now officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

And it's currently ruled by Kim Jong Un, who was proclaimed the 'Great Successor' and given the titles 'Supreme Leader' and 'Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces' when he came to power in 2011. He succeeded his father Kim Jong Il, who had succeeded his own father Kim Il-Sung in 1994.

5. We estimate that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea today.

Most of them keep their faith completely secret; we believe around 70,000 Christians are incarcerated in horrific labour camps, punishment for the discovery of their faith. Open Doors partners are able to meet with some of these secret believers when they make the dangerous and illegal journey over the border into China. Once they are in China, they can stay in one of our safe houses, receive training and encouragement, and take food, Bibles and other materials back with them into North Korea.

6. There are some church buildings in the capital Pyongyang.

One Catholic church, two Protestant churches and a Russian-Orthodox church have been built and hold services. However, defectors testify that these churches serve as showpieces.

7. All North Koreans must memorise over 100 pages of ideological materials.

This includes poems and songs which praise the morals and majesty of the Kim Il-Sung dynasty. They must also attend weekly meetings to learn 'Kimilsungism', the worship of the ruling family.

8. North Korea has developed a social classification system called 'Songbun'.

'Songbun' divides society into three classes: the core (28% of the population), the wavering (45%) and the hostile (27%). Christians are considered members of the hostile class. The system is used for food distribution, and those who are of a higher 'Songbun' class are given more food than those of a lower class. The system also affects punishments; those of a lower 'Songbun' class receive harsher punishments.

9. North Korea has a great potential for natural disasters.

Every year there are torrential rains, typhoons and flooding, but the country also suffers from droughts and sand storms. These extreme weather systems often affect people's livelihoods and food supplies, leaving many without enough to eat. However, Christians are known to share their resources, even if they have very little, and Open Doors partners are able to smuggle food and other aid into the country.

10. Outside information is getting through.

While it is incredibly difficult for those inside North Korea to get information from outside of the country, a survey among defectors and 'travelers' in 2010 found that 27 per cent of North Koreans had listened to foreign radio programs in the country. Open Doors partners are involved in broadcasting Christian radio programmes into North Korea.

Stand with your persecuted church family in North Korea

North Korea has been number 1 on our World Watch List, the list of the 50 places where Christians face the worst persecution, for 14 years in a row. It's the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. We pray that one day soon North Koreans will be free to worship Jesus, but until they do, we are determined to stand with them in prayer and action. Here are three things you can do:

Please pray:

  • For provision and protection for the thousands of secret believers in North Korea
  • For strength and comfort for the many who are incarcerated in labour camps
  • For wisdom for our partners as they support the church in North Korea
  • That one day soon North Koreans will be free to worship Jesus without fear of punishment.

More News from North Korea:

Find out more about persecution in North Korea.